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Stress-free Holiday Entertaining

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Category : Holidays, November, Seasonal Menu Ideas

Vegetable Beef SoupIf you’re the cook in the family, thoughts of holiday entertaining may generate ambivalent feelings. On the one hand, hosting family and friends for a festive occasion is a special pleasure. On the other hand, it can also seem like a daunting amount of work in a season when time is already stretched thin with decorating, gifting, guests, and travel. How to resolve this conflict? Let me pass on a solution that has worked well for me.

Some years ago, in another state, I used to own a bookstore. The holidays were crazy busy, so the idea of entertaining at home was out of the question. Eventually I decided to try waiting until New Year’s Day when the hectic holiday buying season was over, and then invite all our friends to an Open House. I would fix two or three big pots of soup in the morning to keep warm on the stove, and friends would stop by at whatever time during the afternoon and early evening was convenient for them.

For several years, that worked wonderfully. Soup is easy to make and pretty hard to ruin. As a result, the preparations were free from pressure. Because visitors arrived throughout the day, there was time to relax and actually have conversations. It became a tradition we eagerly anticipated each year.

When we moved to Whatcom County, for a few years we were invited to holiday dinners at friend’s homes. After my grandson was born, we started hosted a holiday potluck at our own home. We would fix the turkey and dressing and friends would bring a side or dessert dish.

This year, however, time once again seemed tight and I felt the old ambivalence returning. I just didn’t think I could deal with the brining and preparation of another huge turkey, not to mention packing the leftovers and carcass after the meal.

So we modified our plans. I had a large tri-tip roast (Second Wind Farm, Everson) I’d been saving for a special occasion. On Thanksgiving Day morning, I put some chopped carrots, onions, and potatoes in the bottom of the crockpot, added a cup of brown beef stock, and laid the roast on top, sprinkling with salt and dried thyme (Half Acre Farm u-pick, Ferndale). Our home was filled with wonderful smells all day while we relaxed and enjoyed time together. It was a wonderful day of rest and restoration for which we were all thankful.

On Sunday, however, we reinstated our Open House tradition. Saturday night my daughter, who recently discovered she loves to bake, made a loaf of beautiful rustic bread and some tasty dinner rolls. Sunday morning I made two big stockpots full of soup, both recipes from my blog (whatcomlocavore.com)–a creamy Potato Leek Soup and a hearty Vegetable Beef Soup. Easy, delicious, and absolutely no stress!

Friends began arriving early in the afternoon. Some even brought goodies, including a fabulous pumpkin cake, several kinds of wine, and homemade biscotti and jam. There was no shortage of gustatory delights, stimulating conversation, and laughter.

It was a marvelous way to end the four day weekend.

Whether an open house appeals to you or not, I encourage you to find a way to celebrate the holidays that is as enjoyable for you as for your guests. Holiday entertaining should not be an endurance sport, in my opinion. If you enjoy making elaborate preparations, more power to you! I’ve been in that frame of mind sometimes myself. But if you’re ready for a break from the day-to-day push, there’s nothing wrong with making things easy.

If you’d like to try a soup Open House, here are three simple, yet unique, soups that I guarantee you and your guests will enjoy!

Happy Holidays!

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